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My Uncle R committed suicide in 1981 using a handgun purchased for his part-time post-retirement job as a security guard at McDonald's. He left a strategically placed note for Aunt J, which she discovered lying on the kitchen table upon her return from grocery shopping. It was a short note, with no explanation and a couple of simple requests:

J: Don't go downstairs. No extraordinary measures. R
Join me below the orange curlicue for more about his life and death.

Uncle R's Life Story

Uncle R was born in 1919, grew up during the Great Depression, and served 4 years in the US Army during World War 2. He achieved the rank of Staff Sergeant and saw things no human being should ever have to see. After the war, he returned to his job at Chrysler's Jefferson Avenue Plant, eventually rising to Shift Supervisor and then retiring with pension and retiree benefits.

His first wife died young, in her 30s.  Uncle R remarried after a while to a widow with two children. Being old school Catholics, it was a marriage of convenience and as far as I know from overhearing (eavesdropping? who, me?) my parents, it was never consummated. Thus entered Aunt J and Cousin T into my life.

Guns and Mothers

As mentioned earlier, Uncle R acquired a .38 Police Special for his post-retirement job as a McDonald's security guard in Detroit. He hated the job. "The kids are rude and dangerous," he told me. "They have no respect for their elders, not even those carrying a gun."

Not to over-complicate things, but around this same time my grandmother was hospitalized for bowel surgery. With a long recovery and uncertain outcome ahead of her, Uncle R took over financial and medical affairs by dint of being eldest son. Because of Medicaid spend-down rules, he ended up in a sweet new Chrysler while she ended up in a local nursing home.

I didn't like seeing Grandma in a nursing home, so as soon as she was recovered enough for home care, I convinced Uncle R to release her from the nursing home and my girlfriend and I moved into her house in Detroit to care for her. Uncle R kept financial control but we took over day to day activities, and in about 6 months she was self-sufficient and I moved out.

Grandma's release from the nursing home is important in that I believe it was a contributing factor in Uncle R's suicide.


Uncle R was meticulous in life and meticulous in preparation for death. He kneeled down in the basement, arranged in a way that his body fell near a floor drain where blood could exit, and pulled the trigger. A bullet fired from a .38 revolver travels at about 1,000 feet per second, which means it passed through his brain in about 500 microseconds. For comparison, a human eye blink takes about 700 times as long.

I'm going to skip ahead a bit here because a later discussion with Cousin T becomes relevant.

After arriving home and finding his note and ignoring it by going downstairs and finding Uncle R's body, Aunt J called the police and my Cousin T. The police arrived and did what they do, the coroner arrived and did what she does, and then Cousin T arrived. It turned out that despite his meticulous planning, Uncle R had overlooked something.

"Mom couldn't go back downstairs," Cousin T told me. "I had to clean the blood and bone and brain from where it had splashed on the wall." He paused and looked away, then added, with an odd catch in his voice, "That man saved my life. I was running wild as a teenager. I got busted after I crashed a stolen car. He sat me down and read me the riot act. He would not back down. He believed in me. It changed my life."


Naturally, Aunt J blamed herself. People who commit suicide either don't think about how survivors will feel or, sometimes, they think everyone will be relieved, if not downright happy, that they're gone. Survivors, of course, usually think otherwise. Aunt J became a recluse, drank too much, and gradually withered away. But what was practically instantaneous for Uncle R took her 30 years.

I even blame myself to some extent. What if I had just left Grandma in the nursing home? After all, I added guilt about dumping her there to his existing burdens, and as a young man of 22, with all the arrogance that implies, I had more than once expressed my contempt of that decision.

Who knows, though? Suicide is an intensely personal matter, and only the person committing it truly knows why.

If it weren't so sad, it would amuse me how hard guns rights advocates work at dissociating suicide from gun violence. "There's only 11,000 gun homicides a year in the U.S.," they brag, conveniently forgetting the 19,000 suicide deaths and 1,000 accidental deaths that also happen year in and year out. "But those don't count," they bleat. "If not a gun, they'd use something else."

Perhaps. But no other method is as fast and convenient and effective, things that Americans value above all other things. Even life, apparently.

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